3D Scanning Gives World’s Historic Sites New Life

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Have you ever traveled to another part of the world to visit a historical site and been truly moved by the experience? A snapshot often just doesn’t do it justice. But imagine what it would be like to give your family and friends a virtual tour through a 3D replica of that site.

Enter CyArk, a non-profit organization on a mission to digitally preserve and share the world’s cultural heritage sites using 3D laser scanning, photogrammetry, and traditional survey techniques.

Ben Kacyra, together with his wife Barbara, founded CyArk because they are concerned the world’s heritage sites—and the stories they tell—are at risk. The two came up with the idea after the Taliban destroyed Afghanistan’s 1600-year-old Bamiyan Buddha statues in 2001.

Tangible representation of our past like the Bamiyan Buddhas are being lost at an alarming rate due to weather, air pollution and climate change, natural disasters, population growth, and human conflict.

Through digital representations, Kacyra hopes that ancient stone drawings and famous cathedrals will be preserved for thousands of years and that everyone will have the ability to explore historical sites in a virtual reality setting.

CyArk’s detailed digital data can also be used to reconstruct sites that have been destroyed, and it provides a unique teaching opportunity for both children and adults, bringing history back to life in an exciting and interactive way.

Take a 3D virtual tour of Mount Rushmore

Engineer and inventor

Ben Kacyra arrived in the United States in the 1970s as an immigrant from Iraq and trained as a civil engineer. His concept for CyArk stemmed from his work as co-founder and CEO of Cyra Technologies, a San Francisco Bay Area technology company, where Kacyra was instrumental in the invention and marketing of the first truly portable laser scanner, designed for surveying purposes.

This fully integrated laser 3D imaging, mapping, modeling, and CAD system is currently used worldwide in the architectural, engineering, and construction industries, as well as in the automotive, entertainment, and crime forensics fields.

Prior to Cyra Technologies, Kacyra founded and was CEO of Cygna Corporation, an engineering and construction management firm, which grew to become one of the top 80 engineering companies in the U.S.

The CyArk 500 Challenge

Over the past decade, CyArk has already preserved about 100 sites, including Mount Rushmore, Pompeii, and the Sydney Opera House. The company recently kicked off the CyArk 500 Challenge to digitally preserve another 500 cultural heritage sites within the next five years.

This ambitious initiative gives governments, corporations, and individuals the opportunity to suggest heritage sites for preservation.

“The CyArk 500 Challenge is a continuation of our desire to involve the public in saving these magnificent places, and anyone can submit a heritage site to be considered for inclusion in this initiative,” says Elizabeth Lee, vice president at CyArk.

“There are so many incredible heritage sites—many still unknown to the wider public—that tell compelling stories about our human history but are at risk of being lost and could benefit from being digitally preserved. We’re really excited to see the 500 projects that come out of this global effort,” Lee says.

The CyArk 500 Challenge is made possible through public-private partnerships, and donated funds and services.

How it works

CyArk uses 3D laser scanning systems which bounce laser beams off a structure 50,000 times per second generating and capturing tens of thousands of data points. The result is not just a picture, but an actual digital representation of the site, with accurate detail down to a resolution of less than a quarter-inch.

As the CyArk team embarks on its challenge to capture data from 500 sites, it is also using ever more sophisticated technology. Currently, each project requires about five terabytes of data, but CyArk expects its data to grow at 30 percent per year, and within five years it will need to store an estimated two petabytes of data – the equivalent to 2000 terabytes.

How can you possibly store all that data? CyArk is partnering with Iron Mountain, a leader in storage and information management.

“It is hard to conceptualize petabytes of information, and even harder for a small non-profit company to plan for and manage,” says Jeremy Suratt, senior solution marketing manager at Iron Mountain. “CyArk partnered with us to create scalable storage with the longevity they need to achieve their goal.”

Taking a virtual tour

The 3D digital renderings from CyArk are free to the public and a list of projects, including both those completed and in process, is on its website.

From the wreck of Titanic to 3D images of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, this multimedia content enables anyone to virtually visit some the world’s most famous historic and cultural sites.

Image courtesy of CyArk

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